Two Theological Arguments Against Neo-Ussherian (Young Earth) Creationism – Part 1
(Okay, the title was a bit misleading. I’m only going to address the issue of death before the fall of man and not actually totally rebut the Neo-Ussherian hypothesis)
One of the common touch-points in discussing the age of the universe is the issue that the old earth hypothesis requires animal death to be in the world before the fall of man. The argument is often made by Neo-Ussherians (aka young earth creationists) that having animal death in the world before the fall of man is theologically unacceptable. I will attempt to demonstrate (via two arguments) that this is not the case and, in fact, it is the Neo-Ussherian position which is theologically problematic. First, I will present a deductive argument that leads to one of three conclusions: (a) animal death is incidental, (b) animals are included in the plan of salvation, or (c) Christ was not victorious over death. Second, I will present an inductive argument that aims to show the Scriptural data is more probable on the hypothesis that animal death is incidental. Finally, it is important to note the scope of these arguments. If they are completely valid and sound, they will not completely rebut the young earth hypothesis. The entire purpose is to demonstrate that the issue of animal death before the fall is not a substantial objection to the old earth hypothesis.
A Deductive Argument
If taken consistently, the common YEC position leads to some rather uncomfortable theology. Consider the following argument:
(1) All things that die in Adam have the potential to live in Christ
(2) Animals died in Adam
(3) Therefore, animals have the potential to live in Christ
Premise (1) comes directly from the language of 1 Corinthians 15:20-28. Denying (1) will not be an option for a Bible-believing Christian. Since (3) follows logically (through modus ponens), the only controversial premise is (2). The common Old-Earth position is to deny (2) by saying that animal death is merely incidental; it didn’t come about through the fall nor is it a curse or anything like that. So, this argument is unsound. But, those who think that animal death is not incidental will have to come up with an alternative explanation or will have to embrace the fact that their theology allows animals to be included in the plan of salvation. (To my knowledge, there is only one organization that promotes this.)
The first response to this argument will be “Wait, that’s not right. Animals don’t have souls so they can’t be included in the plan of salvation or resurrected!” Of course, I agree with this sentiment. However, this response is equivalent to denying the conclusion of the argument. As the argument is valid, denying the conclusion without rebutting one of the premises is insufficient. For the sake of discussion, suppose that this were the case. Suppose that all the premises were true and yet animals were not resurrected or included in salvation. This presents an immensely awkward situation. Consulting 1 Corinthians again:
54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory?”
Remember, death is the last enemy to be defeated (1 Cor 15:26) and as demonstrated in verses 54-56, death is defeated in resurrection. These data can be summarized as follows:
(1) Death can only be defeated through resurrection
(2) Animal death exists
(3) Animals are not resurrected
(4) Therefore, animal death is not defeated
(5) Therefore, not all death is defeated
Wait a moment. Didn’t Christ ‘conquer death, hell, and the grave’? (Note: this wording is from a song, not actually in the Bible). If this is true, then how can Christ be victorious over death if the death of the animal kingdom is left undefeated? For those who hold that animal death is incidental, this isn’t a problem. Animal death isn’t the type of thing meant to be defeated and all the verses referring to the conquering of death refer exclusively to the death of humanity. This option isn’t available to those who think that animal death is a result of the fall or some kind of result of the curse. The only options at this juncture are to say that animals are included in salvation (and subsequently, resurrection) or admit that Christ was not entirely victorious over death.
“But wait!”, the non-incidentalist may say in an effort to split the horns of this dilemma, “this passages in 1 Corinthians are written to humans, not to animals. That means that all the death that’s being referenced has to be human death.” I would agree! The only problem here is that these passages (1 Corinthians 15, Romans 5, et cetera) are all written in the same form to human audiences. It’s been my experience that Neo-Ussherian, non-incidentalists point to the epistles as evidence for their position. But, recognizing all of the passages apply exclusively to humans effectively nullifies all the New Testament proof texts thought to concern animal death. Thus, there would be no textual justification for holding the position that animal death is non-incidental.
Now, consider the third option, that animal death is merely incidental. If this is true, then, none of the theological problems arise. All those that die in Adam are humans and there’s nothing controversial about humans being in the plan of salvation or being resurrected. If this is the case, then Christ is truly victorious over death as expressed in verses 56-57
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Moreover, the connection between sin and death can be clearly understood if humans are the only party included. Non-human animals are not morally culpable creatures, meaning references to ‘sin’ are categorically erroneous. All in all, the hypothesis that animal death is incidental comes out as the most theologically acceptable position given all the considerations.
There are some implications to consider. Supposing this argument is completely valid and sound, it does not say how old the universe is. Saying that animal death is incidental is not inconsistent with also saying that the universe is young (i.e. 6,000 – 50,000 years old). What this argument does demonstrate is that animals dying before the fall is not a substantial objection to the view that the Earth and universe are old (i.e. 4.5 billion years for Earth, 14 billion years for the universe).
In Part 2, I will present an inductive (i.e. probability based) argument in favour of the incidental hypothesis.
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